Thursday, March 3, 2011

East Meets West

I’ve always been able to laugh about my ethnicity, and what some deem as racist or stereotypical remarks, I see as the punch lines for hilarious jokes. Part of this is because I feel comfortable with who I am, but I think another part lies much deeper. For years, I’ve thought of myself as Asian on the outside, white on the inside. Although my exterior tells people otherwise, I am much more American than I am South Korean.

I grew up in a home with two white parents and an adopted South Korean sister. My parents raised me according to American culture, which makes sense since I was a U.S. citizen and living in one of the fifty states. I knew I looked different than most of the people around me, but I didn’t feel any different. Church, sports, video games, pizza, 90’s cartoons… these things helped shape my childhood to mirror the lives of my friends. This is why I consider myself more American than Asian; my family helped shape my outlook on my ethnicity, and the same can be said of the Samoan boy’s story.

The main character, the Samoan boy, had a different experience as an immigrant living in a foreign country. His parents, natives of Samoa, were constantly telling him and his brother how great their homeland was. He heard his birthplace described as an unrealistic utopia, one that they would return to eventually. The boy’s time in New Zealand was marked; he was living to leave the country he grew up in. This, along with the color of his skin, prevented him from assimilating into the New Zealand culture; that is, until he found a reason to stay. The pakeha girl gave the Samoan boy a purpose for staying in New Zealand. At the same time, though, because he grew up in the city and eventually found a home in his lover, his return to Samoa was not the experience his parents had previously depicted.

To grow up a member of one country but belong to another is a difficult experience. Like the main character of Albert Wendt’s Sons for the Return Home, I was born on foreign land and immigrated to a different country at an early age. The main difference between the Samoan boy and me is the connection to our respective countries of birth. My adoption into a white family completely removed me from South Korean culture; I ate cheeseburgers and pizza, kept my shoes on when in the house, and spoke only English. I grew up in a predominately white town, but because I assimilated into American culture at such an early age, I didn’t see myself as being different than my friends. Sure, my skin was a bit darker and my eyes were a different shape, but I truly didn’t feel any different than my white friends.

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